From the cradle to depraved
June 25, 2008 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Measuring depravity. The Depravity Scale is an international research effort that aims to scientifically standardize the definition of legal terms such as "heinous", "atrocious", "evil" , and "depraved" according to input from the general public. But is the Scale itself, er, a bad idea?

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posted by stinkycheese (54 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Scale of Evil)
posted by effbot at 10:05 AM on June 25, 2008


Yes.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2008


A "bad" idea?
posted by samsara at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fuck. I may have filled mine out wrong. I thought it was a dating questionaire.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hope this is a Chris Morris hoax.
posted by 15 step at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2008


Oh, we slashdotted the main site. I'll try again later.

Still, the last link criticises the idea of statutory aggravations (i.e. the power to amend sentencing when there's a legally defined hate crime). I think that indiscriminate group-hate is a graver problem for society than more random violence, that "I don't like you" is not as serious as "I hate people like you", and that recognising that in the law makes sense.

Which is not the same as a thought crime, a distinction which is obvious to me but not to Tim Boucher.
posted by imperium at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't know how you would quantify or standardize "evil"...Like many things, it is a concept that only exists in relation to something else. It's trying to hit a moving target, like definitions of pornography which have to take into account community standards.

In the end, I always thought the use of such terminology was aimed at the jury - they represent the peers of the accused; as such, they are the best group to determine if evil, heinous, or other terms apply in the specific case in front of them.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:24 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to think killing hookers was depraved, but then I played Grand Theft Auto and realized you're a fool if you don't do it. It's how you get your money back!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, if not bad, then at least unnecessary. The only reasons I see them giving for the existence of the project seem to boil down to "these words get used in courts". Well, sure, a lot of words get used in courts, especially by lawyers. One would almost think that lawyers were trying to affect people with their language!

People already know what these words mean, and they either work or they don't. I mean, the fact that there's a general consensus over what a word like "heinous" describes is what allows the project to exist in the first place. Plus, the justice system already has a very specific means of conveying the seriousness of a particular crime in written English. This would seem to just muddy the waters and open the door for more legislative minimum-sentence guidelines.

So, wait: I want to change my vote. Bad.
posted by penduluum at 10:26 AM on June 25, 2008


I hope this works out. It would be nice to finally have some hard numbers to work against. Too often I try for 'atrocious' and realize that I only made it to 'heinous'.
posted by quin at 10:27 AM on June 25, 2008


Did you ever set out to kill a bunch of people horrifically, and at the end of the day you're like, "Well, this is just plain awful?"
posted by Mister_A at 10:39 AM on June 25, 2008


We can't even agree on a single definition for these kinds of concepts socially, much less in law, so I'm not sure what this guy is going on about...

Oh, wait: "My research in courts' approaches to determining "heinous" crimes has shown that courts focus on actions to the point of almost entirely excluding consideration of intent. [...] Let's consider the following example: A college student brings a knife to school, is in a conflict with another student, and stabs the student. He is charged with attempted murder. Another college student draws up plans and arms himself to mimic Columbine, targeting maximum casualties, hoping to become an icon, or targeting a particular ethnicity. Police stumble on his plot before anything happens. He is charged with possession of weapons. What is the more heinous crime? You cannot appraise the severity of crime, in my professional opinion, without a full understanding of intent."

It's thoughtcrime. How very original.

Which is not the same as a thought crime, a distinction which is obvious to me but not to Tim Boucher.

It's not obvious to me, either. There is no real way to prove motivation; any given crime could be a "hate crime" in which the perpetrator did not outwardly express his or her group-hate, and any given "hate crime" committed by an avowed racist or what have you could actually have been a crime of passion. IMHO, hate crime legislation punishes people for expressing unpopular opinions in public, not for group-hate in and of itself.

After all, the expression of group-hate is perfectly legal in America. That being so, I don't see why assault or vandalism plus the legal expression of an opinion should equate to any more punishment than assault or vandalism alone. These laws are a pretty transparent attempt to get around the First Amendment, punishing people for unpopular speech.
posted by vorfeed at 10:40 AM on June 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Still, the last link criticises the idea of statutory aggravations (i.e. the power to amend sentencing when there's a legally defined hate crime). I think that indiscriminate group-hate is a graver problem for society than more random violence, that "I don't like you" is not as serious as "I hate people like you", and that recognising that in the law makes sense.

Maybe it's a problem, but I don't think ripping more discretion out of judges' hands is the answer. We already have 90 years for pot possession and life for stealing candy because it's a 3rd strike- do we really need mandatory 10 years for a racial slur or whatever? Do you think the people in question will be LESS hateful when they come out?

Which is not the same as a thought crime, a distinction which is obvious to me but not to Tim Boucher.

I don't know who Tom Boucher is, but you're advocating increasing people's jail time for their thoughts and beliefs as opposed to their actions- I'm at a loss for what else to call it.

Also, to my mind, a person who kills out of racial bigotry deserves a lesser sentence then, say, someone who kills for money. The bigot may have been taught to hate partially by parents and background. While that of course doesn't absolve him, it's certainly more forgivable than a crime committed in cold blood. The first offender probably also stands a better chance of being rehabilitated.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2008


This is a fantastic idea. Necessary, in fact, if we are to get our Children's Creche into production!
posted by absalom at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


You are less evil than Benito Mussolini but more evil than Abe Vigoda.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2008


The Depravity Scale research aims to establish societal Internet standards of what makes a crime depraved

Furthermore, if you're going to have an international survey, it will only be potentially useful for international courts or crimes of international scope (war crimes, etc.) Since the survey seems keen on emphasizing U.S. court decisions, I don't see how this international survey can rightfully apply to decisions of strictly national scope, which must depend on U.S. societal standards of depravity. Right?
posted by naju at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2008


I'm with you vorfeed; it seems like we should be addressing the actions more than their motivations in our criminal justice system. That system, unfortunately, is so profoundly dysfunctional that we see stiff sentences for sensationalistic outlier events and slaps on the wrist for aggravated assault, attempted murder, vehicular homicide, illegal gun possession, etc.

Fucked up.
posted by Mister_A at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2008


Finally, something concrete to aspire to!
posted by owtytrof at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2008


Nevermind, I'm guessing they'd compile responses from individual countries as well. Still, it seems like the sample will be limited to very specific countries and very specific demographics within those countries.
posted by naju at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2008


I read the survey questions, it's basically a list of examples with buttons for "Evil", "Somewhat Evil" and "Not Evil" next to each set of related examples.

Is it wrong that I found the examples to be unintentionally hilarious? Here's a sampling:

Ignoring victim's pleas for the perpetrator's restraint.

Knife, strangulation, or attack with hands, when gun is readily available.

(Victim) left in the desert begging for his life.

Committing a crime solely to attempt to outsmart the police.

Laughing at the victim.

posted by burnmp3s at 11:14 AM on June 25, 2008


Attaching fricking laser to fricking shark.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:23 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Describing your plans in great detail before leaving a single inept guard to prevent prisoner's escape.
posted by Tehanu at 11:43 AM on June 25, 2008


Dressing prisoner up in futuristic clothes for mocking purposes.
posted by Tehanu at 11:44 AM on June 25, 2008


In other news, scientists will be attempting to define the exact, mathematically precise meanings of "art," "literature," "porn," and "comedy."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:46 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


That system, unfortunately, is so profoundly dysfunctional that we see stiff sentences for sensationalistic outlier events and slaps on the wrist for aggravated assault, attempted murder, vehicular homicide, illegal gun possession, etc.

Yes, but those serious crimes were committed by people who weren't evil. Just poorly potty trained, or something. It's not their "fault" that they are murderous bastards. Slap their wrists, give them a lollipop, and send them home.

Petty felons have no such excuse. Only pure evil steals candy bars so they should be locked up for eternity.
posted by three blind mice at 11:55 AM on June 25, 2008


I'm disappointed that the survey wants to assess what I think these ratings should be, as opposed to where I personally fall on the scale.

My guess would be somewhere between atrocious and depraved, but a reliable scientifically validated instrument would put my evil mind at some ease by resolving any ambiguity.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finally, we can validate Mr. Period's advice on the word "appalling"!
posted by Monochrome at 12:08 PM on June 25, 2008


Yes, but those serious crimes were committed by people who weren't evil. Just poorly potty trained, or something. It's not their "fault" that they are murderous bastards. Slap their wrists, give them a lollipop, and send them home.

Petty felons have no such excuse. Only pure evil steals candy bars so they should be locked up for eternity.


My personal favorite are the laws which provide immutable and automatic extra punishment for drug "trafficking" crimes committed while the offender was in the possession of a gun, even a legal gun -- you get the exact same extra punishment if you kill someone with a gun as you get if you're legally armed and they find more than [insert felony amount here] ounces of weed in your house!
posted by vorfeed at 12:20 PM on June 25, 2008


I don't, however have any issue with tacking on additional years for using a gun in the commission of a crime, even if the gun is not fired. Thus, threatening someone with a pistol, legal or not (the pistol that is) should be treated more harshly than threatening someone with a rake or something. If there was any logic to our judicial and penal systems, this would not be necessary, but there ain't so it is.
posted by Mister_A at 12:31 PM on June 25, 2008


Don't we already have the "X with a deadly weapon" distinction? I assume that includes knives.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2008


It's one of life's thrills to find souls lost in the dark and thorny wilds of depravity and gently guide them out into the sunlit picnicking meadows of debauchery, where they can be of use.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:25 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it wrong that I found the examples to be unintentionally hilarious? Here's a sampling:
[snip]
(Victim) left in the desert begging for his life.


Is (Victim) a synonym for "turtle on its back"?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:27 PM on June 25, 2008


Don't we already have the "X with a deadly weapon" distinction? I assume that includes knives.

Yes, it does, though the sort of knives which count as "deadly weapons" often depends on jurisdiction.

I don't like automatic penalty enhancers in general, because they reduce judicial oversight, but I don't have a specific problem with extra punishment for violent crimes committed with deadly weapons. It does seem reasonable that threatening someone with a gun or knife is a more serious crime than threatening someone with your fist, for example.

That said, I really don't like the idea that merely having (not using) a deadly weapon during the commission of a non-violent crime should earn one extra punishment. The underlying assumptions (that all "criminals" are inherently violent, and that "criminals" do not have the right to self-defense) are repellent.

IMHO, this particular bill is clearly operating under these assumptions -- when the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of those who had possessed but did not use firearms during drug deals, Congress' response was to amend the law to specifically include simple possession!
posted by vorfeed at 1:51 PM on June 25, 2008


take the survey yourself

Beware. If you don't give the right answer - i.e. your rating of the depravity of a particular crime is well below the average - you go on a list to be viewed as a suspect if that crime is committed in your neighbourhood...
posted by raygirvan at 2:43 PM on June 25, 2008


Yes, it does, though the sort of knives which count as "deadly weapons" often depends on jurisdiction.

More often, it depends on intent. Cars can be deadly weapons. A toy pistol can be considered a "deadly weapon," if you told someone it was real in order to rob them. Your empty hand in your pocket can be considered a deadly weapon in the same way, if you convey to your victim that the bulge is really a gun or other kind of weapon while you're committing a crime.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:53 PM on June 25, 2008


Committing a crime solely to attempt to outsmart the police.

Wait, that's bad?

Given the endless crop of idiots the police usually get to deal with, I'm surprised more cities don't hire criminal geniuses just to give the boys in blue a chance to do something interesting once in a while.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:59 PM on June 25, 2008


Good luck with that. I can't even tell what aggravated means in legal terms, and there is usually a clarification in the law on that. Note, when sawing off human limbs, throw in a couple of I'm really sorrys so that you are only guilty of mayhem and not aggravated mayhem.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:07 PM on June 25, 2008



Which is not the same as a thought crime, a distinction which is obvious to me but not to Tim Boucher.

I don't know who Tom Boucher is, but you're advocating increasing people's jail time for their thoughts and beliefs as opposed to their actions- I'm at a loss for what else to call it.


No, increasing their jail time for performing criminal acts based on their thoughts and beliefs.

Don't worry, no-one's going to take away you ability to call black people niggers. They're just going to punish you more harshly when you drag them behind your pickup truck on a chain. I'm not sure why this concerns you.
posted by rodgerd at 3:22 PM on June 25, 2008


vorfeed, I imagine a hate crime is when the perpetrator goes the extra mile to antagonize the victim, so writing "asshole" on your neighbors house is just vandalism, even if everyone knows you just don't like their race, but writing a racial slur is a hate crime.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:40 PM on June 25, 2008


FWIW here is a good brief synopsis of hate crime legislation in Canada.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:37 PM on June 25, 2008


I had an argument a while back about whether bringing terrorism charges against arsonists who burn unoccupied Hummers in a parking lot is the equivalent sentencing enhancement to hate crime legislation.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:55 PM on June 25, 2008


Obligatory link to Dr. Evil. The bio he gives in group therapy is genius.
posted by lukemeister at 7:34 PM on June 25, 2008


Well from the comments left on this page it is clear that very few people are taking what is a very relevant and important topic seriously. On top of that most of the individuals from this site who actually participated in the survey have no idea what the Depravity Scale is trying to accomplish or what it actually is.

The key to making a valid argument for or against anything is to know what you are talking about and argue on that topic. So props to actually taking part in something that will definitely improve certain aspects of the legal system, but here is an even bigger challenge...actually find out what it is that you are criticizing or supporting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAoj8U9o9ag

I actually took the survey with knowledge of the issues that it is trying to address and clear understanding of what the research is trying to accomplish. As a result, I am all the more confident that my contribution was a valuable one. I have and will continue to encourage my friends and colleagues to participate for the simple reason that their input impacts positive change in a system that, based on consensus, is flawed. www.depravityscale.org
posted by A4Thought at 9:06 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


vorfeed, I imagine a hate crime is when the perpetrator goes the extra mile to antagonize the victim, so writing "asshole" on your neighbors house is just vandalism, even if everyone knows you just don't like their race, but writing a racial slur is a hate crime.

Yes, exactly. This punishes the public expression of unpopular opinions like [insert racial slur here], but not the public expression of popular or neutral opinions like "asshole", "bloods", "SSC", "kilroy was here", "jesus saves", etc. IMHO, this is bad. It's illegal to commit vandalism and it's illegal to make threats, so we don't need extra laws which make some threats or some acts of vandalism worse than others, based merely on the content of the speech involved.

Don't worry, no-one's going to take away you ability to call black people niggers. They're just going to punish you more harshly when you drag them behind your pickup truck on a chain. I'm not sure why this concerns you.

This is not accurate. Several of the examples here involve leafletting, bumper stickers, signs, and other acts of public speech. Also, when trying to establish a hate-crime motivation, one's group affiliations, prior associations, and habits come into question (see here for examples). This could very easily lead to the hate crime convictions of those with openly racist or anti-religious opinions and the like, whether or not their particular crime was truly racially or religiously motivated. When one side of any argument cannot speak for fear of arrest, I think people are right to be concerned.

In my opinion, extra penalties for legal group membership, legal expression of opinions, or legal use of the press are un-American. Period. If we're so concerned about so-called hate crimes, we should be aggressively prosecuting them under existing laws, not making an end-run around the Bill of Rights. As for racist speech, racist groups, and racist press, the proper response is anti-racist speech, groups, and press, not special legislation.
posted by vorfeed at 9:24 PM on June 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


A4Thought,
I sympathize, but I think never used baby shoes nailed it. 'Depravity' should depend on the jury's view of what's depraved. The Supreme Court ruled today that child rape does not merit the death penalty. To me, child rape is (in most cases) more depraved than murder, since the rape is premeditated and the murder may not be. However, I don't see how it helps to poll the public about which is worse. Fundamentally, I don't think polls are valuable, but that's another issue.
posted by lukemeister at 9:27 PM on June 25, 2008


Murder subject to the death penalty is at least in California defined by the murder being premeditated, otherwise it is murder in the second degree or manslaughter. Why must rape always be premeditated? Can it not be a crime of passion? Although, personally, I always thought that the results of ones actions should be the basis of punishment, and not whether it was the result of cold malice or poor impulse control; dead is dead.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:19 AM on June 26, 2008


Took the survey, I definitely have mixed feelings about this effort.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:48 AM on June 26, 2008


I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
posted by apis mellifera at 2:52 AM on June 26, 2008


How is this whole thing not a complete fucking joke? Not only is this "study" completely unscientific (gathering opinions from random internet users who "opt in"—hardly a fair and representative statistical sample of the international public), but it attempts to develop standards not just for moral decisions OUT OF CONTEXT, but also THE MEANINGS OF WORDS?!?!* Nevermind that it ignores such obviously unimportant things like cultural variation, social structure, and the ethics of trying to come up with a blanket ideology detailed enough to describe evil, but vague enough to withstand time and change. Don't we already have a document like this?

*The meanings of words exist in the minds of the users and are more or less agreed upon...they do not have empirical, pure meanings out in the world that can be 100% accurately categorized and pointed to. Dictionaries are about as close as we get, and they change, constantly, based on the evolution of each individual entry, based on a general consensus of how each individual uses that word, in context. And dictionaries don't always get it right. Especially when you factor in things like regional, dialectical, and cultural variation. Just like it would be silly to attempt to use the dictionary to establish social rules to define conduct and social interaction, an opinion poll about what it means to be depraved can't even be the most rudimentary of guides for determining the fates of others.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:59 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Welner worked for the prosecution in the Andrea Yates case.
He was disappointed that she was found insane.
posted by lukemeister at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whether an act is considered 'depraved' or not is too easily a matter of how the facts of the case are presented to the jury. Have you not ever done the joke of delivering a compliment or criticism, in the coloring of the exact opposite? This is not conducive to justice. I am reminded of a certain joke concerning a politician, accused of encouraging his young son to masticate in public! Is that 'depraved', or what?
posted by Goofyy at 6:54 AM on June 26, 2008


Oh, I forgot to add: Vorfeed, than you very much for your insightful comments.
posted by Goofyy at 6:55 AM on June 26, 2008


lukemeister, thanks for those links.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2008


Oh, I forgot to add: Vorfeed, than you very much for your insightful comments.

Wow... this made my day! Cheers, Goofyy.
posted by vorfeed at 12:15 PM on June 26, 2008


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